Thank you to the 1,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 questions! I hope reading
7 Questions with Reenita Malhotra Hora
helps you in your leadership.
7 Questions with Reenita Malhotra Hora
Name: Reenita Malhotra Hora
Current title: Head of Marketing & Operations
Current organisation: SRI International
Reenita is a founder, executive-level content, operations, and marketing leader. With multiple years of experience in the USA and Asia, she grows organizations, ranging from early stage startups through mid-size businesses, through storytelling, creative marketing and strategy. She currently heads marketing and communications for SRI International, Silicon Valley's pioneer science and deep tech research institute generating annual revenues exceeding $450 million. At SRI International, Reenita manages brand and institute-wide marketing strategy and operations to impact talent recruitment and retention, federal business development and commercial sales. She has developed, led, and executed integrated strategies to reinvent SRI’s digital roadmap as it enters into its all-important 75th year. By driving strategic storytelling around core next generation technologies including AI, Robotics, Quantum, Biosciences and more, she has raised the significance of marketing qualified federal and commercial business development leads. She has also helped transform SRI’s business model by facilitating a deal with Nomura Holdings to establish the Nomura - SRI Innovation Center (NSIC) to focus on bringing Silicon Valley technology to corporate Japan. She mentors SRI Ventures’ early stage portfolio companies, helping them to develop their business strategy and preparing them to go to market.
Before joining SRI International, Reenita was VP of Content for hibooks (previously known as Otto Radio) a San Francisco based media tech startup. Here she developed a strategy and operations program resulting in the successful acquisition of the company by Ximalaya FM, China’s biggest player in the audio space. She has worked for large public and private media companies. At Radio Television Hong Kong, she developed, produced, anchored and syndicated Money For Nothing, Hong Kong public media’s first financial news morning show and received several accolades for her award-winning cultural storytelling show, Asian Threads. She then went on to work for Bloomberg Media as a key member of the core startup team taking Bloomberg’s first Asian broadcast operations to air. She has also contributed to media including the New York Times, CNN, the Wall Street Journal, the South China Morning Post, BBC and more.
Prior to the above, Reenita founded, built and sold Ayoma Inc., a healthcare company. Over a series of eight years, she built the valuation of Ayoma to US $10 million and developed the company’s product, B2B and B2C sales, marketing and retail strategy. Since then, she has served as an executive level strategist and coach for tech, retail and media/entertainment startups. She has provided advisory services for several entrepreneurs, helping their companies raise funding, go to market and build brands. She has also served on two non-profit boards: Integrated Brilliant Education Trust and Operation Santa Claus, and two private company boards - Ayoma Inc. (early stage) and Vidyut Metallics Pvt. Ltd. (late stage).
Educated at Williams College and the University of Hong Kong, Reenita speaks fluent Hindi and conversational Japanese. She has authored seven books (on health, personal finance and fiction) by leading publishers including Chronicle Books, Pan Macmillan India, Harper Collins India, and Hachette. She has won several storytelling awards including the Crossword Readers Choice Awards, the New York Festivals International Radio Programming Awards, and RTHK Radio 3 Awards.
Tech professional by day and fiction writer by night, Reenita does not miss an opportunity to dive into the heart of a good story. She is currently working on her next novel and developing Chapter by Episode, a digital publishing platform focused on stories with diverse themes.
1. What have you found most challenging as a board member?
Perhaps the most challenging thing about being a member is to put yourself in the operational shoes of the company without actually doing so. What do I mean by this? As a board member, you have an incredibly important role - to guide and govern the company, to be the watchdog for its success. Yet you are not a full time employee but rather a watchdog that shows up at several meetings a year. You might have another job or other board positions which require your attention and focus, not to mention personal and family responsibilities. Yet each time you come back to that board meeting, you NEED to know this company inside and out - as well as the employees who work there on a day to day basis. This means a lot of background work is needed, homework that keeps you abreast of the company's progress and challenges, and homework on the industry itself. Doing all of this without being there full time - that's the main challenge.
2. How did you become a board member? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I first became a board member for a family company. Our main family business manufactured shaving products for the Indian market. The business was vertically integrated. It included not just the company responsibility for manufacturing and selling the razors but it also owned companies that built the machines to manufacture these razors. It was structured this way because the founder, my father was an engineer who strongly believed that the quality of his product was only as good as the machinery that produces it. he wasn't much of a sales/marketing expert. So even though I became a board member of two of the family companies mostly because I was a family member, I was able to guide by contributing my practical knowledge of m=sales, marketing and sector growth. My board roles were for heavy machinery and consumer product companies but the governance principles guide so much of how I think today and what I have applied to other boards over time.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I wake up very early in the morning and spend a couple of hours writing. I have written 8 books - both fiction and nonfiction. Then, I start my working day with a light breakfast and coffee. The morning hours are primarily taken up with work relating to my day job. The afternoons are split between my day job activities but also my board and consulting work. I work out before dinner - walking, hiking, gym, yoga...it's different depending upon the day. Then I relax into the evening, cooking dinner for/with the family and sharing the day's tribulations with family members as we break bread together. Post dinner, I like to read and/or watch a show on Netflix.
On weekends, I find myself taking a long multi-mile hike. I also spend time on my writing, board work and research over the weekends but leave plenty of time to unwind, see a show or socialize with friends over drinks and dinner.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
Leadership is not a one track set of rules. Each of us are different and are therefore able to lead in different ways. The trick is determining our 'secret sauce' and using it to define the way in which we are most likely to succeed as a leader.
I have done a lot of research into 'Ayurveda,' India's 5,000 year old Science of Life. In a nutshell, the Ayurvedic concept of prakruti, which translates literally from Sanskrit as “nature,” refers to our natural mind-body constitution — the unique characteristics that each of us is born with, perceptible through emotions, behavior, body type, metabolism, and health tendencies. The emotional characteristics of a person’s prakruti gives each of us our unique ‘secret sauce’ for excelling as a leader.
I have developed a Master class and a leadership training program based on this understanding of what I call 'natural born leadership' skills. I take this out to corporations to work with their teams and managers.
5. What are some of the keys to doing governance well in a organisation?
Think of the organization as your home and family. A place of comfort where happiness and progress is guided by order, routine, solid nutrients and a mix of activities to satisfy, replenish and build the worth of your family members individually and collectively. Building this home with a strong foundation is insurance for building the success of your family. It is the same with your organization and its employees. Governance should set comfortable rules that allow the organization to take wing without getting lost in uncharted skies. Nourishing the organization and its members with solid governance is akin to feeding the family with good nutrients. When you do, you are positioning it for success.
6. How do you differentiate between the role of board member and the roles of CEO or executive team member of a organisation?
I think I answered this in Q1. In a nutshell, the CEO and exec team have operational roles. They must take action and make decisions which affect their employees, their product and their divisions. They do this on a day to day basis. The board member does not play an operational role. S/he comes in to guide and govern. That said the board member's guidance and governance is critical because not only will it inform the road to success or failure but s/he is ultimately responsible - as much as the operational execs.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a board member so far?
The success of a company is measured on a day to day basis by various KPIS - the strength of its product, its position in the market, how the business is scaled etc. But for a private company, much of this ultimately comes together in the exit strategy. Will it be acquired? Will it go public? As a board member for my family companies, my opinion was overshadowed a lot, especially in the early days. This was largely because I was female...the only female board member on a family company board of a highly male dominated and traditional Indian gender-biased (i.e male gender biased) family. Yet, I was able to lead it to its ultimate exit - both with my sales/marketing guidance which scaled the company but also with my introduction to the private equity firm that finally invested in it and led to its exit. Yes, there is a place for us all...even when the odds seem stacked against us.